Great guest post by Prateek Sanjay, a Business Development Consultant for various tech startups.
If I told you there is a region in the world where inventors and researchers have built self-driving robots, self-flying planes, machines that can interpret and understand human languages, simulators that can emulate real-world physics, and AI so advanced it can predict heart attacks, you might think I am talking about Nordics, Germany, UK, or the US.
Nope, it is actually a region of 6 million people that you can drive from one end to another in 7 hours.
It is not that Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have a decently serviceable startup scene. It is not that they have merely made successful imitations or clones of US startups. It is that they are actually conducting innovations done nowhere in the world, and they are making their mark by not being copycats.
Here is a sample of what the Baltics are undertaking this very moment.
Robots, drones, and unmanned vehicles
Right now, in the cities of Phoenix, Arizona and Foster, California, there are robots driving themselves across the pavements. They carry inside of themselves pizzas, hamburgers, falafels, and other delivery foods, which will reach the home of the customer, inform him his food is ready, and authorize him to collect it from the inside of it. These unmanned vehicles are operated by DoorDash, PostMates, and other delivery companies.
These robots were all built and programmed in Estonia, by Starship Technologies, a company founded by the team behind Skype itself, Janus Friis and Ahti Heinla.
So immense has been the hype for this company, that Dominos inked a deal with them to do a pilot in Hamburg.
While Estonian robots are driving themselves on the ground, tiny Latvian unmanned airplanes are flying out of human sight. Airboard has built the smallest aircraft on the planet, an object barely the size of a shoebox, that can carry 110 kg by itself up to 20 meters high in altitude, and making flights as far as 10 km away. Its founder Elvis Straupenieks was named the most ingenious Latvian inventor by The Elite Daily, and is a part of Draper’s Boost VC Tribe.
Straupenieks is not the only ingenious robotics inventor around in Latvia. Another group of inventors have built a robot that automatically feeds cows in farms. They are the team behind Robotic Solutions, an EU funded group of inventors who build customized robotics solutions for different sectors. Their selling point is that these robots don’t merely do functional physical tasks, but generate data that intelligence devices can enrich and analyze – a conversion of IoT, Big Data, and robotics.
Automatic translation tools
Translation has become so easy these days that all you need to do is drag and drop a document into an open space in a tool and choose a language. And to make the extra corrections needed to ensure that no Google Translate style mistakes occur, you have a master translator tool to see if each word was translated correctly, by showing the context in which each translated word is normally used.
That is what Estonian startup Skuuper does, by having an army of freelancers do translation work so that the machine learning system learns to translate by observing and imitating them.
This is made possible by technologies called translation memory (TM) and fuzzy matching. Skuuper even has its own translation bank with five million translated phrases, although users can utilize their own TM.
What Skuuper does for administrative staff and documents, Lokalise, does for developers and mobile apps. This Latvian startup allows you to drag and drop iOS and Android files and leave them to be translated and have an app localized in whatever form you wish.
Motion simulators and motion captures for engineering and physics
Many golfers, skydivers, and snowboarders are so obsessed with perfecting their sport, they now want to see frame by frame images of their movements to master every millisecond of them.
That is why they make use of HackMotion, a wearable sensor that records movements during these sports that can be played back on a device later. This Latvian wearable solution has been so widely praised by coaches, that they claim they are discovering elements of human biomechanics never known before. Meanwhile, a team in Latvia made a similar solution but for capturing motion in basketball, through a company known as Playgineering.
It’s not just human movement that can be captured by motion technologies. A group of researchers from the University of Latvia have built an engineering simulation technology that can capture, simulate, and predict movements of electromagnetic particles and liquid metals. Soon, Cenos Platform will even launch a fluid dynamics solution.
Also in Latvia, the group of researchers at Apply Solutions, have built an AI solution called CheeksUp to practice facial muscle exercises by capturing movements of facial muscles for child patients under rehabilitation.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
Recently, there has been a rise in the number of challenger banks and neobanks in the UK, many of which operate without physical branches and are accessible entirely through apps. Removing branches, however, requires automating customer support in some way possible. Monese is one such bank, being the first 100% mobile bank account in the UK.
They worked with an Estonian AI company and chatbot provider, AlphaBlues, which creates an automated customer support manager within the app itself. This chat provider ended up so efficient, that it managed to resolve 15% of technical problems without needing them to be referred to the support team.
Another company in Latvia is also bringing AI solutions to banking and finance. Nordigencreated a behavioural scoring API which uses predictive patterns in people’s transaction behaviours to make a credit scoring for them. One of their clients saw a 6% GINI uplift due to this solution.
Outside of AI applications in finance, recently, there has been a rise in Smart Homes and Smart Factories thanks to a wide deployment of IoT solutions. Having your heaters, coolers, electronic devices, and appliances connected to an internet network may not be the best idea if hackers can hack them. Which is why a Lithuanian cybersecurity company, CUJO AI, created a platform that uses AI to protect the networks of IoT cloud infrastructure providers from incoming threats. This system works pro-actively, stopping possible threats from accessing a network before they engage in suspicious activity.
The Baltics are not just revolutionising IoT and banking through AI. Medical sciences are getting an upgrade too. One Latvian startup XOResearch has developed technology to record and interpret cardiogram data in order to predict a heart attack beforehand.
As per banking regulation, many banks are required to visually identify the holder of the account when dealing with them. This hurdle to branchless banking has been rectified by a new range of products that offer video-based identification. One of the Baltic competitors in this space is Notakey.
It has managed to gain UBS, Credit Suisse, and Swisscom as partners, making it a serious competitor to the big German players’ ID Now and Web ID. A major possible outcome of such solutions is that it can cut down on time required in cross-border payments immensely by making a video or a selfie sufficient KYC proof for sending money abroad instantly.
Of course, what Notakey does in identifying holders of accounts, DigiPulse achieves in identifying who transfers or receives it. This Latvian crypto startup has built the world’s first ‘digital inheritance vault’, which aims to ensure that all digital asset holders and crypto wallet users have ultimate control over who inherits their digital and crypto assets. It was launched after a $1 million ICO, following which, they grew into a fully-fledged team.
What is surprising is that much of these startups, except Starship and Notakey, have flown under the radar, implying that this dynamic region does not receive the coverage it deserves. Let’s change that, and make sure we correct our complacency regarding the threat that the Baltics represent!
Edited and prepared by Amy Murphy, Journalism student from DCU.